South China Sea issue to feature in Asean talks



HANOI: Vietnam is expected to ensure all Asean meetings touch on the South China Sea issue to enable the regional grouping to be better prepared in dealing with China.

Together with other Asean claimants of the territory, Vietnam is in a better position to take on China regarding the issue as it assumed the Asean chairmanship from Jan 1 and as non-permanent member at the United Nations Security Council for 2020-2021 term.

Regional observers predict that Hanoi will try to build a tougher line together with other Asean members in the Code of Conduct negotiations against China with the latest spat involving Indonesia, regarding the encroachment of Natuna territorial waters.

“They will talk more about the South China Sea in every multilateral meeting in Asean,” said Trung Thanh Nguyen, director of the Centre for International Studies at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City.

Hanoi’s dual strategy would see it continue to promote Asean centrality in dealing with external powers, said Bangkok Post columnist, Kavi Chongkittavorn.

“(And) as non-permanent member on the UN Security Council, Vietnam can contribute to the ongoing debate on global issues, including climate change, peacekeeping, peace and conflict,” he added.

The first test of Vietnam’s chairmanship might be the ongoing spat between Jakarta and Beijing after the Chinese fishing boats encroachment of Natuna waters off Riau Islands province.

This follows a statement by Indonesian chief security minister that the government of Joko Widodo will never negotiate its sovereign rights over the area, according to The Jakarta Post.

According to Voanews, Vietnam can decide Asean priorities, from the maritime dispute to regional trade and counterterrorism work.

“The lead country also issues a statement at the leadership summit and may propose a theme such as the ‘Advancing Partnership for Sustainability’ motto that Thailand used as chair last year,” said the portal.